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Hiking permits

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.
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Hiking permits

Postby Leadfoot83 » Sat Feb 27, 2016 12:40 pm

I am new to Hiking/backpacking. I had never known about the need for permits when hiking before coming onto this site recently. So my question is, when do you and when dont you need a permit? Hopefully you guys can bear with my rookie questions for a little while until I get up to speed on all of this. Thank you

Matt



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Re: Hiking permits

Postby markskor » Sat Feb 27, 2016 2:15 pm

Hey Matt!
Permits?....sigh, Good question and welcome.
To protect (prevent overcrowding) in some places Sierra... quotas...and thus permits are mandated. As a rule, the more popular the trail, the harder to obtain. Some places have no permit restrictions... usually not that popular. Best to check/ask before at county offices.
Yes, they are a fact of the Sierra backpacking life...part of the game we all play. You eventually have a face to face with a Ranger (permit office)... You need a piece of paper (see photo), signed by the Ranger, saying you have permission - to enter and camp overnight in the wilderness - starting at a designated trail head (TH) - at a certain day, and - for how long you will be out. Once arrived at the named TH, where you then decide to hike to (some exceptions) is all up to you. These permits (some on-line fees do exist) are free and Rangers can and do check for this piece of paper on the trail - sometimes.
You can pre-reserve a permit, six months in advance - (alas popular THs are now long gone for this season)...60% of all permits. Can also check on-line permit quotas - call permit offices...chat up the Ranger.
or, you can just (maybe call first?) show up at the permit office closest to your wanted TH, the day before, ready to hike... and get a "Next day only" permit...40% of the permits.
permits.jpg
100+s of old permits
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby dave54 » Sat Feb 27, 2016 3:02 pm

Permits are a real PITA.

The more popular trails force you into a rigid itinerary with no deviation allowed. I understand the need, but I still hate it. I usually do not have an itinerary, deciding enroute where to go next and how long to stay, and usually off trail. So I prefer the lesser used trails, lesser used Wilderness. Warner Wilderness, for example, does not even have registers at some trailheads.

OTOH in 40+ years of backpacking I can count on one hand and have fingers left over the times I have been stopped and paperwork checked.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby AlmostThere » Sat Feb 27, 2016 5:09 pm

Go to Yosemite and prepare to show your paperwork. I have been checked as many as three times in a single day in Yosemite. I have been asked for permits in SEKI. I have not been asked in Dinkey or Ansel Adams but at times that is trail crew for me, and we are with the ranger who has a special permit for the group on official trail crew trips. And when it's not trail crew, the rangers recognize me from trail crew :nod:

I have been checked at trailheads. I have had the bear can checked for, multiple times, as well.

So to find out if you need a permit (you often don't if you are not targeting overused, overtrodden, overpopulated areas of the Sierra) you visit google and put in the name of the wilderness area. Yosemite allows you to reserve 128 days in advance. In SEKI you start reserving in March -- for dates all year -- so if wanting to go in September, go to the Sequoia/Kings Canyon page NOW and follow instructions.

If you want to backpack the Lost Coast trail, the considerations are different - permits are not so much a problem as transportation to the trailhead. If going anywhere in the wilderness of Los Padres National Forest (there are multiple wildernesses designated there) you need no permit at all. If you are going to Golden Trout, there are no quotas and no fees -- they just want to know you are going, essentially.

Inyo NF allows you to reserve online so if you want to start from a trailhead anywhere on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, check that page on recreation.gov to see about quotas (usually large) and lead times and other regulations.

Ansel Adams Wilderness has trailheads in Sierra National Forest, which are not typically so difficult to get as in the park system. I only reserve for holiday weekends or groups larger than 6. The roads to trailheads are more the concern there.

BLM properties that are backpack-able typically do not require permits. In some places what you are getting is essentially a camping permit -- you backpack in Point Reyes, for example, and you are paying for a spot in a designated walk in campground.

In other words -- there is no single answer. Look at the website for the place you want to go, and read about it. You will find that reservations are only really ever necessary in specific, heavily-used places like the parks. State parks, like Henry Coe, can have backpacking - but look at Big Basin and you realize that again, you're actually paying for camping. And Big Basin does not allow dispersed (camp anywhere) backpacking due to extremely heavy use. Henry Coe on the other hand is a great place to JUST GO because you reserve nothing -- you simply choose a zone and pay a fee, and while the hiking is strenuous and summer is LOUSY and HOT and sometimes waterless, it's good hiking in winter and spring. (You need good tick prevention measures, however.)

The real concern will be the different needs for food storage and cooking - visit the Ventana Wilderness and you will not only face a fire ban in summer, you won't be able to use a stove at all, because that place is such a tinder box. And water sources are a critical piece of research that must be done. Fortunately there is a forum with locals frequently updating trail conditions.

The Sierra Nevada is a piece of cake for backpackers, but is accompanied by loads of red tape most places. Exceptions like Jennie Lake Wilderness (no permits) and Saddlebag Lake loop (permits are free without quota, no fires ever, but a great fallback if you can't get the walk-in for a Tioga Pass/Yosemite trip) will likely see changes in the near future, to throttle back the HORDES of hikers flooding the trails. And the famous John Muir Trail is so impacted that they have had to seriously squeeze the quotas down, so 90% of the folks attempting to get permits will fail.

But, stick with us long time backpackers -- there are tons of comparatively unknown places to go just as gorgeous, and relatively untraveled.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby balzaccom » Sat Feb 27, 2016 5:27 pm

Permits are a part of the process, but we don't really find it burdensome. As others have noted, if you want to hike the JMT on the 4th of July, you will have lots of company, if you can get a permit for that date. But we've never had to abandon our plans for a hike for lack of a permit. Then again, we like to explore less popular areas most of the time...and there are only two of us, usually. Larger groups are always more difficult.

Some areas, like Hoover Wilderness, will allow you to self-register at the trailhead. That makes it easy.

Once you know where you want to go, and when, you can start figuring out how to access a permit. And if you are a little bit flexible, the rangers will usually help you get one for more or less where you want to go. Part of the wilderness experience is having at least some modicum of quiet...and that means the more popular areas need permits to limit the impact of humans on nature--and other humans!
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Feb 27, 2016 6:11 pm

I quit reserving for permits years ago. If you go solo, then there will likely be a walk-in permit available due to a cancellation. Groups definitely need to reserve! And those 3-day holiday weekends. If you are just starting out, reserving also may be wise until you get the system figured out. I also start every trip with several "Plan B's". If my desired trailhead is not available, I just go on a different trip.

Trailheads used by the very popular JMT will be difficult to get a walk-in, unless you are willing to sit it out a day or two.

But, there are so may trailheads and good trips that are NOT crowded or hard to get a walk-in permit.

By the way I have only been checked once. And I was a day behind my permit entry date. We explained our delay to the ranger and everything was OK. Safety ALWAYS trumps permit restrictions. If you reach a high altitude trailhead and puke, then wait a day! Most of the "authorities" are very reasonable people as long as you are not outright trying to avoid the permit system.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby Leadfoot83 » Sun Feb 28, 2016 1:45 pm

I thank you all very much for the info. I learn something new every day, and this information will be very helpful. I plan on starting out my hiking/backpacking around the balch park area (up to maggie lakes) and above lake isabella in the kern canyon. I am relatively familiar with both of these areas, so i figure it is a good place to start. That way if anything bad were to happen I am familiar enough with the area that I can make it out safely. Once I hone my skills more, I will attempt new areas and new trails. Ill also hope to meet up with some members on here on trips so I can learn from you guys.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby ltm01 » Sun Mar 06, 2016 10:46 pm

I hope this is not hijacking? Could I ask how long it would usually take to find out that you have got your reserved permit? I faxed on the first of March from here in Sth Australia. I misjudged the time and faxed 3 hours too early so it was still 9pm Feb 29th in California. Are they strict about that?
I am walking out of Wolverton on a Friday so hoping I don't have too many worries with that.
Thanks again.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby robow8 » Mon Mar 07, 2016 7:46 am

ltm01 wrote:I hope this is not hijacking? Could I ask how long it would usually take to find out that you have got your reserved permit? I faxed on the first of March from here in Sth Australia. I misjudged the time and faxed 3 hours too early so it was still 9pm Feb 29th in California. Are they strict about that?
I am walking out of Wolverton on a Friday so hoping I don't have too many worries with that.
Thanks again.


I and several other people have gotten permits that got faxed in on the 1st. I fear that you might have been too early. I would give them a call @ 559 565-3766 between 9am and 5pm California time to see if they can help you.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby ltm01 » Tue Mar 15, 2016 2:48 pm

Thank you Robbow, you were correct and a quick call sorted it out for me.
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby robow8 » Tue Mar 15, 2016 4:11 pm

ltm01 wrote:Thank you Robbow, you were correct and a quick call sorted it out for me.


Glad things worked out for you. :partyman:
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Re: Hiking permits

Postby Robmannn » Mon Aug 15, 2016 5:10 pm

Since we're leaving early from Phoenix and want to get on the trail the same day and not gamble on a walk up permit I wanted to get a reservation. I'm sure there is someplace with a good description of this process, but I could't find it.

I hope this is the right place to post this, but I just got off the phone with the Inyo Forest Commercial Wilderness Permits office in Bishop. 1) Don't go to recreation.gov. Search Inyo Forest Wilderness Permits, that should come up as the first search choice so. Click that and you go to Inyo Forest Wilderness Permits. See on the left under the little square map "find permits". They said on first drop down chose overnight not cross country. Second drop down gives you a choice of all the trails. You can pick a particular one or all trails where you call scroll down the list of trails and see whats available. Chose range button and enter starting and ending dates. Enter group size. Hit search. Under trail and permit type is the trail you chose and to the right are the available dates. Click on the trail you chose under trail and permit type and read the trail description before you click book permit. The form that comes up is pretty clear. I did a loop so I didn't have to change the exit point. For some reason it puts in your entrance date automatically, so you have to change that even if you chose range. They told me they have some things to iron out with the online stuff. In itinerary they said just put one place in, then other/don't know becomes a choice and you can use that. The rest is pretty clear. Again, read everything if you've never done this.
I almost booked the wrong place. They were very understanding when I called and asked them to help me.
Important to me: You can go online to your trip and confirm it when you're 2 weeks or closer to your entry date and they will hold your trail pass all day. Otherwise, you have to pick it up before 10 AM or it goes to walk ins.

I'll probably forget all this by the time I do another one.
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